Medical ultrasound (also known as diagnostic sonography or ultrasonography) is a diagnostic imaging technique based on the application of ultrasound. It is used to see internal body structures such as tendons, muscles, joints, vessels and internal organs. Its aim is often to find a source of a disease or to exclude any pathology. The practice of examining pregnant women using ultrasound is called obstetric ultrasound, and is widely used.
Ultrasound is sound waves with frequencies which are higher than those audible to humans (>20,000 Hz). Ultrasonic images also known as sonograms are made by sending pulses of ultrasound into tissue using a probe. The sound echoes off the tissue; with different tissues reflecting varying degrees of sound. These echoes are recorded and displayed as an image to the operator.
Many different types of images can be formed using sonographic instruments. The most well-known type is a B-mode image, which displays the acoustic impedance of a two-dimensional cross-section of tissue. Other types of image can display blood flow, motion of tissue over time, the location of blood, the presence of specific molecules, the stiffness of tissue, or the anatomy of a three-dimensional region.
Compared to other prominent methods of medical imaging, ultrasound has several advantages. It provides images in real-time, it is portable and can be brought to the bedside, it is substantially lower in cost, and it does not use harmful ionizing radiation. Drawbacks of ultrasonography include various limits on its field of view including patient cooperation and physique, difficulty imaging structures behind bone and air, and its dependence on a skilled operator.